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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Crang, M. & Hughes, A. Globalizing Ethical Consumption. Geoforum. 2015;67:131-134.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The papers in this Special Issue point out that the common assumptions of the great majority of work on ethical consumption are that producers are located in poorer countries, in particular those of the global South, and consumers are located in richer ones particularly in the global North. Not only political-economic perspectives of Global Value Chains (GVCs) and Global Production Networks (GPNs), but also cultural studies of consumption typically focus on ethical consumption in North America and Western Europe. Consequently, ethical consumption in the global South is under-researched and under-theorized, despite the fact that the burgeoning middle classes within the so-called emerging economies are playing an increasingly significant role in the global politics of consumption (Chua, 2000, Clammer, 2003, Guarin and Knorringa, 2014, Tsang,
2014 and Zhang, 2010) leading to questions both of consumption being used for self-definition and as a new vehicle for expressing social and environmental concerns (Davis, 2005 and Lange and Meier, 2010). The papers collected here address the over-arching question of what the globalization of consumerism and rising middle classes mean for ethical consumption beyond advanced capitalist societies. Is ethical consumption increasing with the rise of a global middle class and, if so, is that changing what ethical consumption entails and where and how it is practised? What does ethical consumption look like in what are variously and problematically termed ‘rising power’ and ‘emerging economy’ contexts, and how does this challenge existing conceptualizations? Moving beyond the case of ethically-labelled goods, some of the papers also broaden investigations to examine alternate moralities of consumption practices associated with ethics of care for proximate rather than distant others.

The papers probe both what ‘ethical consumption’ is and how the concept and category may travel and change as it appears in different cultural contexts. The concept has been applied to indicate three separate but related domains of ethical values. First, the policies of different institutions and corporate actors, that second come to constitute products marked as ethically produced and traded and, thirdly, the values and judgements of consumers in their purchasing decisions. All of these are problematic in and of themselves and tend to represent different sub-disciplinary interests in studies of consumers in relatively wealthy countries, but are open to arguably wider debate when the assumed institutions, markets and consumers change locations.

Department of Geography